Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Tacoma Narrows Bridge  on the Olympic Peninsula.
The site is ringed by old cedar, of which this is one --
probably not original old growth but quite possibly the
second growth that sprung up after the lumberjacks
moved through like locusts a century and a half ago.
The site has a glorious view straight through to the
One of grama's aides in her final days was from the
Muckleshoot tribe. We talked a long while about the
Gregorian Chants I played for grama ("they cleanse my
soul," she said) and then she spoke about how she used
cedar spiritually and medicinally -- whenever anyone's
health in the household turned South or their luck went
sour -- smudging with it or just having a bough around.
My uncle, who's part Lummi, chimed in about how family
members followed tradition and placed pieces of cedar
bark in his mother's coffin before she was buried. S, the
aide, nodded urgently and stressed how important it was
to have cedar around, not saying why that was.
I described how the floors of the churches of Mexico and
Guatemala in Mayan regions are covered thick with pine
needles at Christmas time, and asked her if the evergreen
thing was because of that -- because it's forever green.
She nodded deep and long.
The next afternoon, trying to clear my head of the dim
dying lights of Grama's room, I took a hike through the
Arboretum and passed through a grove of cedar
surrounded by low crawling blackberry bushes, the hot
sun releasing their fragrance so that it smelled like
Grama and Bompa's old place on Three Tree Point; so
that it smelled like home. One old giant dangled a
branch low across the path and I twisted off a small
stem, asking first, thanking later.
When I got back to Grama's room I knotted it into the
light cord that dangled from the nasty florescent light
over her head; the one that we left off most of the time.
I figured it couldn't hurt. When S returned that night we
looked after Grama -- turning her, tending to her --
before she said, "I see you got some cedar," with an
When it came to the funeral we opted for red roses
because Grama loved red roses; maybe in part because
her maiden name was Roseland  and several of her
high school pals called her Rosie.
I said a few words at the service and told a few stories,
including the one about Grama working at Boeing in
the '40s before my dad was born, and wearing slacks
as mandated because her secretarial responsibilities
took her to the manufacturing floor.
I told how one day after work she ran some errands in
downtown Seattle. Not incidentally, the King of Norway
was in town. As Grama walked down 5th Avenue --
wearing her slacks in the year 1940-something -- two
gentlemen whom, from the tone and tenor of their
conversation appeared to be part of the King's retinue,
had a conversation behind her -- ABOUT her -- in
Norwegian, going on about American women wearing
slacks, and how one would never see that kind of thing
My grandmother -- whom, unbeknownst to them, spoke
Norwegian -- spun on her heel, looked them in the eye,
and said to them in Norwegian: "I understand every
word you're saying."
At the reception hosted by the nice church ladies
afterwards a gentleman approached me who was a
member of the church and was there to help the ladies,
and he told me that although he didn't know my Grama
he *did* know that story and was delighted to learn that
it belonged to Grama. His father was an engineer at
Boeing, and a Norwegian American, and apparently
Grama's story made the rounds in both communities.
Which Grama would have so loved to have heard.
Another strange twist that would have made it into
Grama's story database for telling and retelling: Grama
did not attend her own funeral.
On Friday the coroner launched an inquest into the
circumstances surrounding her fall at the nursing facility
where she was a resident. The fall resulted in the head
injury that caused her death.
This is the part of the story I haven't blogged about
because it's soaked with too much rage and horror, but
in trying to get answers from the management of the
facility after her fall we received several different accounts
of how she fell and a polite but firm refusal to release
the associated accident report.
My gratitude that there will be an investigation is
counterposed by the regret that I've been living with like
a steady heartburn. Regret for not being here for the last
years of her life, for not doing a better job of looking in on
her. And it's of course compounded by the frustration of
not being able to stay in Seattle until the autopsy is
complete and Grama has settled into her spot alongside Bompa.
If funerals are for bandaging up the raw wounds of loss
this one feels like the tape has pulled loose, exposing
the hurt to air.
So I took this shot not when we laid Grama to rest, but
when I stopped by to visit my Bompa's grave and found
that it was covered with a layered mound of plywood to
protect others from the gaping void that is now my
grandmother's grave. Three of us pushed the boards out
of the way to see his marker and then pushed them back
again, but we had trouble getting one board back where it
needed to go given all the other boards weighing it down.
It was obscuring another family's grave and we didn't
want to leave it that way, so I sat my bum down in the
grass and put both boots to the board while my cousin
stood over me, lifting the topmost boards while I pushed
the bottom one. With a quick shove we put it right.
As we did my heels swung forcefully over and into
the dark empty grave that will hold my Grama. Just as
hurriedly I snatched them back gasping into the light.
Posting by cameraphone from the road home.
 The same stretch that Galloping Gertie occupied
once upon a time
 We learned when digging through our genealogy in
Norway that a long time back the name had been
"Russeland", suggesting that our family came to Norway
from Russia sometime way back. This may explain why
my Norwegian Grama had dark hair and olive toned
skin, which I've inherited from her.
Friday, July 24, 2009
from the hospital parking lot. I was scarfing Panda stir
fry in my rented PT Cruiser and heading back for the
second half of my first twelve hour day with Grama.
There would be two more weeks of those.
Weeks made of endless days made bearable by the
support network that buoyed under me and held
me afloat. Friends who made time for dinner at the
drop of the hat -- including P&B with barely an hour's
notice saying "we've been waiting for your call all
week" (god I love you guys), and J & salty almonds.
L&J who left their apartment and their plants in my
custody when they scurried off to Rio so I could stem
the hotel hemorrhage -- and let me keep the keys so
I could do it again this weekend. A&T who were
*supposed* to be benefitting by their absence to get
in a little lakeshore time, and instead generously made
room for me.
S with the gift of Boards of Canada when I tweeted
about craving beauty and music (BofC is both and has
sustained me)(along with Death Cab for Cutie, curiously
enough); the b1 boys with their beautiful vitamin bolts
just as my stamina was flagging.
AMcQ (you know who) who hounded Lutheran Pastors at
my request and for my grama's sake when she was
desperate to take communion and they were slow in
coming. (That won't get you into trouble in heaven, will
The kind nurse from Ghana who, in looking after Grama
said to me: "I am so happy for you, to have this time,"
and told me about how she lost her grama suddenly, to
a heart attack, how she missed and hurt every day for
her; and, crying as I cried, held me so we could cry
and keen together.
The emails; the calls; the DMs; the comments. The
hugs and the time it takes to listen when someone is
sobbing and gulping her way through a story. The
stories from friends who have been here -- A. especially
for telling me how he rubbed his dying grandfather's
feet, so that I thought to rub Grama's, so that she
troubled to ask me the next day, just once "will you
rub my feet?" and never had to ask again.
So many hands.
That refrain first came to my mind when we buried
Harry a few months back and the honor guard saw
him off with gunfire and coordinated step routines.
When the folks filed through the reception hall and
the family told stories about his final days; about
the toll of the Parkinson's; about the hands needed
to care for him.
Came to mind again when the pallbearers rooted
themselves under his heavy casket and carried it like
rowers carrying their hollow shell to the river so they
can set it to the current.
Thought of it when I joined friends to sit shiva this week
just as soon as I returned to town. Thought of it when we
gathered for three nights successively to read the Kaddish
and to share stories about our friend and surround his
widow with company and comfort. Thought of it when
Grama died on the third and final night.
So many hands.
Came to mind when I thought of the careful attention
we give to the dead (we can't lower our own selves into
our graves); and thought how the dying receive the same
kind of attention as the newly born as I spooned
porridge into my grandmother's mouth and helped
her aids bathe and lotion and powder her frail form.
Because they must. Because none of us can manage
it any other way.
Posting by cameraphone on board Southwest Flight 2001
from Midway to SeaTac. This weekend we bury my Grama.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Y'all have seen this before, but humor me, would ya? I'm missing my Grama. This is a snippet from a TV commercial that we did together sometime back. Grama's the one who says "I'm 75." So this was 15 years ago.
My oldest friend, my fiercest defender, my truest love.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Although Mr. Armstrong is known as a man of few words, his heartbeats told of his excitement upon leading man's first landing on the moon.
At the time of the descent rocket ignition, his heartbeat rate registered 110 a minute -- 77 is normal for him -- and it shot up to 156 at touchdown.
From ASTRONAUTS LAND ON PLAIN; COLLECT ROCKS, PLANT FLAG; A Powdery Surface Is Closely Explored in the 21 July 1969 issue of the New York Times, rerun in today's paper as a special advertising supplement sponsored by Louis Vuitton.
It's worth picking up a print copy of the New York Times today -- it's that cool to read the story as it was reported when it happened.
Also in the insert, from a special report by Harold M. Schmeck Jr.:
Two American Astronauts proved last night that man can see, walk, and work on the surface of the moon.
Moving very cautiously at first, they soon found they could walk across the lunar surface easily in bounding, almost floating steps.
They seemed to have a little difficulty in adjusting their vision to the deep shadows of the airless moon, but their depth perception appeared not to suffer at all, nor did their appreciation of the scene.
"Magnificent desolation," was the phrase Col. Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. used to describe the view.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Random detritus in honor of tomorrow's 40th anniversary of the first walk on the moon, and because this blog needs a break from death and dying. (Although it just occurred to me that the moon is a dead satellite, so maybe I'm not departing that far afield after all.)
- The trailer is from Moon, in theaters now, an achingly lonely masterful portrayal of a solitary man harvesting helium 3 from the far side of the moon. It's also about everything that it means to be human. See it see it see it. (Oh: Plus big ass harvesters.)
- How we got video from the moon to earth (via @robertbrand) »
If you fall into the conspiracy camp, here's how we faked it »
- Evidence that reducing, reusing and recycling is not always a good idea -- especially when it comes to NASA and the original lunar landing tapes (via b1-66er) »
- How to Moonwalk like MJ with bonus sexy British narrator (female) »
Update: b1-66er has admonished me that my reference to the Moonwalk conspiracy theorists is not in the least bit funny and instead provides a platform for lies and superstitions that do no one any good. given his great kindness to me in my recent hour of need I have struck out the reference. ignore it. it perpetuates lies and superstition that do no one any good.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Unless an unwelcome call comes before then.
I left her in the hands of my dad (her son) and my extended family and her kind competent nursing staff who have taken to calling her Grama (after all of us calling her Grama) plus her very own dedicated hospice nurse. She's been semi-conscious for days, no language, barely eating, hardly opening her eyes, and I fooled myself into believing that she wouldn't even know I was leaving. Even though she calms down when the nurses are turning her and I stroke her hair and tell her just real quick, Grama, they'll be done in a bit. Even though last night while we sat alone when the room quieted after everyone went to dinner she opened both eyes wide and just looked at me a while with those same dreamy loving eyes she's always looked at me with.
I've never had a harder time saying goodbye. Because she did know, and she cried as I cried, and she grimaced with the pain of it and I kissed her again and again and again.
I've spent the last two weeks with her, 8 to 12 hours a day. And it wasn't nearly enough.
Friday, July 17, 2009
The right to have a sense of purpose
The right to reminisce
The right to be comfortable
The right to be touched
The right to laugh
The right to be angry and sad
The right to have a respected spirituality
The right to hear the truth
The right to be in denial
Found in the little pink book that the nice hospice people gave us.
I <3 hospice.
for one thing: it doesn't pace itself toward the final frame
unlike its cousin birth it can't be clocked
the body heats to extremes like a rocket straining to clear the atmosphere
rattles and trembles from the effort of querying the cloud bank for safe passage
then settles to rest a while longer on the soft soil of home
I had not. It's my policy to only think about burying people once they're ready to be buried. Grama's not there yet.
But Grama and I have long had the habit of hanging out in graveyards together, and Lake View was one of our favorite haunts.
Her sister is buried there, along with her much cherished grandmother, and I've written before about how together we would uncover the sod that overtakes their pauper stones with ferocious regularity.
Now that I'm gone to Chicago and since Grama stopped driving some time back there's no one near to make sure that the small cement blocks stay exposed to the sun.
So I stopped by Lake View Cemetery today to order up a couple of headstones, one for Corinne and one for Ingeborg, and when I told Grama, who graduated out of language about 48 hours ago, what I had done, she fixed me with her one good eye (things have gotten very Diving Bell and Butterfly) and loved on me good.
If she'd been feeling better I might also have told her how the mortician had a gangster's last name and had the incongruous habit of using the expression "la dee dah" as a comma. She would have come back with an unbearably funny observation and we would have giggled until, quite possibly, we were in danger of wetting our pants.
As is our custom.
But what I got was enough.
It's been so good, all of it. We've had a tremendous goodbye.
(Now if only my heart weren't so broken.)
Posting by cameraphone from Grama's bedside where she lies dozing.
Update: temporary markers »
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
It meant steak -- always steak -- and a salad of iceberg lettuce and marinated artichoke hearts.
It meant popcorn and old movies or old movie musicals -- whatever was on the networks before cable. Zorro. Shane. The Sound of Music. It meant Grama bursting into a full throated "Climb Every Mountain" as the final credits rolled.
It meant good night bear hugs and waking early and running downstairs as eager as Christmas morning, bare feet on the cold cement corridor pointed towards the warm kitchen smelling of coffee (always coffee, strong and dark) where I'd climb high on the counter stool in my nightie and wait for waffles or omelets or something equally delicious while reading the trivet that sat on my grandmother's stove: "Grow old with me: the best is yet to be.
It meant a weekend with Grama and Bompa: playing, giggling, being alive.
Last night a sleepover with Grama meant curling up in my clothes on the cot that her kind night Aid rolled in for us last Friday. It meant waking at three to converse with the nurse about whether we should turn her, whether we should give her the Tylenol suppository that she hates to have administered but that seems to alleviate her discomfort.
It meant pulling away her oxygen tube at dawn at her tugging request and watching her fitful right hand, the only one that remains truly mobile, flit to her eye and then curl below her chin as if the weight of her head were resting there, in a gesture I've shared with her always, unconsciously, deep in my DNA.
Monday, July 13, 2009
I can't take my eyes off her. She remains the most beautiful woman I have ever known.
Earlier we talked of our friendship. We talked of how we love each other.
Later a nurse stopped by to administer eye drops for her glaucoma and for the shingles that have tormented her in these last weeks, and she asked me, sensitive to my vigil, "Good Grama?"
"The best," I said, choking on tears.
But the best doesn't nearly capture the way this woman has loved me and I have loved her. And the name Grama doesn't nearly hold all the ages that we've fended for each other and fought off each others foes.
What Grama said, as she said goodbye again and again and lifted her weak arms to hug me and asked for kiss after kiss, nearly captures it:
"I've never known a separation like this -- the agony -- indescribable."
Saturday, July 11, 2009
But I will say that I keep playing the tape of my grandmother's voice through my head; the words she's been able to say to me in her few brief lucid moments: "my angel", "sweetheart", "beautiful girl", "that's my girl", "bless you", and "good friend".
She has words for all of us -- words that are equally dear, equally clear -- for her family who have gathered around. She knows us by name and calls for those who weren't able to come.
But I am selfish and my heart is breaking, and I loop only the words in my mind that she gave to me.
Posting by cameraphone from Des Moines, WA.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Point just down the road this was a tin shop. Now it's
a swanky eatery in the newly swankified town of
Burien just Southwest of Seattle. We swung through
here yesterday to grab a bite and now again this
afternoon I'm making a coffee run for the troops.
It's a little unsettling to see Burien looking so hip,
but it's nice, too, to see folks loving on this place
that I love so much.
We're settling in for whatever may be next. I'll be
staying another week.
Posting by cameraphone.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Took this shot of Grama somewhere on the Southern coast of Norway just before our fish chowder arrived.
Which was delicious.
It now sits next to Grama's hospital bed. We're headed into hospice care. My heart is shattered.
The gift of this: a strange lucidity that has pierced her Alzheimer's. She knows me and calls me by name. We've showered each other with endearments. And goodbyes.
Posting by cameraphone from Burien, WA.
Monday, July 06, 2009
slow tide rising Tsunami-like flooding the dusty corners where memories are stored and old grudges ferment, forgotten
tender forevers paddle to stay afloat; gulp salt-water and cough for air
for a long time after this, after we've slogged through the mud and debris and set tumbled things upright
for a long time, I've learned, my heart will live below the water table, pooling at the first mention of rain
Posting by cameraphone from Chicago O'Hare, outbound to Seattle
Sunday, July 05, 2009
I'm beginning to understand a little better how my brain reacts to really bad news. It scrambles around in the dark for a fingerhold that feels like normal and it plots a course that is familiar and reassures itself that this changes nothing; that life is as it was.
Night passes and morning comes, like it did last night, like it did this morning, after I received word of Grama’s fall and stroke and internal and external head injuries, and the thing that felt so much like logic the day before -- that certainly her condition wouldn’t get much worse between now and Friday when finally I could break away from the meetings that promised to keep me busy on the West Coast all week; that certainly I could stay focused all that time even though my aunt promised me updates daily or more frequently as needed to chart Grama’s progress -- all of that shattered brittle with the dawn. Along with the certainty that she doesn't know me anymore anyway so what difference does it make if I'm there at all?
What the hell was I thinking?
I just booked my flight. I leave in the morning.
Saturday, July 04, 2009
Motion pictures are in fact still photographs 24 times a second.
Ken Burns on the still photograph on FORA.tv.
Ken Burns is tackling the National Parks in his next big documentary for PBS.
To which I can only say: OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG.
I love America’s National Parks. I love America’s National Parks so much that it’s one of my lifetime goals to stay in every single American National Park in one (or more) of their funky old lodges.
From the detritus archives -- a story about exactly that, and a little bit more »
Friday, July 03, 2009
Well, in response to asking, 'Hey, you want me to make a positive difference and fight for all our children's future from outside the governor's office?' It was four yeses and one 'Hell, yeah!" And the 'Hell, yeah' sealed it.
What Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin's kids reportedly said, when she announced to them, with the same ambiguity and lack of meaningful detail about her future plans that she spooned out to the press, that she plans to step down from her governorship on July 26th. As reported by the Associated Press.
That woman's up to no good.
I haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to John Mellencamp since he had a Cougar in his name and Jack & Diane dribbled off her Bobbie Brooks. I played that tape (it was a tape then) endlessly, maybe because it intersected with a whole new landscape in my young life that had its share of running off behind shady trees and doing what I pleased. But then I grew up and got all serious about my music and decided (I guess) that John Mellencamp wasn’t serious enough.
I didn’t mean to leave him cold. I just didn’t pay much attention to what he was up to.
I heard Mr. Mellencamp on Terry Gross this morning (it was a rerun) and was captivated all over again. By his gravelly grown old voice and the way he’d lick in a few chords while he was talking about a tune; the way he played things I’d never heard him play; the way he spoke about his politics, about America, about storytelling, about mortality.
Was captivated enough that I downloaded his latest release, which came around almost a year ago, and looped it while I was cooking up a mess of chicken soup this morning along with other assorted stuff that needs to be tended to before it goes bad in the fridge.
Maybe because this discovery comes hard on the heels of waking up not too long ago in the dark hours of dawn in a hotel room in Midtown Manhattan and feeling, for the first time really, how old I've grown; feeling each wrinkly soft spot like another ring on the tree. Maybe that's why I realized with immediate sympathy that I still love this man »
Mellencamp is touring with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson this summer in what appears to be a series of podunk stops all South of the Mason Dixon Line. Plotting now to see if we might be able to intersect one of Mr. Hoo's county fairs (of which he's so fond) with a roadtrip to the middle of nowhere to give a listen.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
Timmerman's Supper Club
Test roll from the Zarya, a Soviet Leica-wannabe from somewhere around 1959 or 1961 that I picked up last summer on Ebay and only just got around to shooting.
I wasn't expecting this: I thought it would be grainy and unsure, like the Holga, but the test shots came back lush and sharp -- even more surprising in light of the fact that Zarya has no built-in rangefinder or light meter.
Weekend's here. Gonna go shoot some more.
Home of the Sugar Steak
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
It is an exciting time to be a nerd.
John Hodgman at the Radio & TV Correspondents' Dinner.
In which John Hodgman quizzes President Barack Obama on his nerd credentials.
(This happened a little while back, but I've been busy and am just now catching up. It's worth sharing.)